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Reconstruction could only be generously described as a marginal success because of the efforts of Radical Republicans and the Grant administration.
At the end of the Civil War, southern society needed to be rebuilt, both socially and physically. The south was decimated and millions of African-Americans were free for the first time in their lives, and more shocking, equal to their former masters. What followed was a violent struggle for the future of the south which usually resulted in mass violence against blacks as well as lynching as whites tried to re-establish dominance over their former property.
At first, Washington did nothing. Andrew Johnson was president, and he was also a racist and former slave owner who didn't think it was the job of the federal government to help newly freed slaves. The violence continued as blacks tried to assert their rights while whites tried to stomp them back down.
One of the early successes of Reconstruction was the Freedman's Buerau, which was started by congress to help freed slaves (freedman) adapt to their new new lives. Education, bargaing and housing programs run by the buerau. These schools were one of the most important successes of Reconstruction, because for many blacks it was the only education they ever recieved.
Johnson's power was eventually broken in 1866 when congress nearly impeached him, allowing for Radical Republicans to take over Reconstruction. They passed a new amendment that helped support newly-earned black rights. They passed the Military Reconstruction Act which sent the Union army into the south to provide support and security while Reconstruction continued. They expanded voting rights for blacks leading to greater political participation and the election of blacks at both the state and national level.
Southern whites tried to fight back through terrorist means, such as the KKK and other secret societies. When Grant was elected in 1868, he passed the Klan Act to target this group specifically, adding more security to African-Americans, and also helped spearhead the 15th amendment, which led to the greater civil rights.
This is the beginning of the end. Although Grant won re-election, his second term was marred by corruption and he wasn't able to continue the integration of African-Americans into society. Soon, southern whites began retaking state and federal offices and using their powers to reverse hard-fought victories. African-Americans also lost educational opportunities as Freedman's Buerau schools were defunded.
When the election of 1872 occured, Republicans, tired of how long Reconstruction was taking, decided to give Democrats control of Reconstruction in return for control of the White House. Southern Democrats spent the next few decades systematically undoing all the advances of the last decade, culimanting in the 1896 supreme court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized segregation.
Any successes Reconstruction created were undone in the decades that followed, setting race relations back nearly 100 years.
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